House passes GOP antisemitism bill amid college unrest

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(WASHINGTON) — The House passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act on Wednesday amid unrest on college campuses.

The bill, which was introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, passed 320-91.

The measure was led by Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., and had 15 Democratic co-sponsors. Many Republicans and Democrats who voted against the bill said it infringes on free speech.

It requires the Department of Education to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism when enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws. The working definition says antisemitism is in-part “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” The definition includes denying Jewish people their right to self-determination by claiming that the State of Israel is a racist state and drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

Several Democrats took issue with the alliance’s definition of antisemitism and some of the contemporary examples on antisemitism listed by the group. Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler, who is Jewish, said he took issue with the bill because it would put the “thumb on the scale” in favor of one definition of antisemitism and could “chill” constitutionally-protected free speech. Nadler voted against the bill.

The definition of antisemitism has been fraught, especially amid the ongoing protests at colleges and universities across the country in connection with the war in Gaza. Student protesters critical of the Israeli government’s military actions in Gaza have continued to face accusations of antisemitism, as politicians from across the ideological spectrum react to the widening demonstrations on college campuses.

The House’s vote came as those college protests rage on. Many pro-Palestinian protesters are calling for their colleges to divest of funds from Israeli military operations, while some Jewish students on the campuses as well as elected officials have called the protests antisemitic and said they are scared for their safety.

Some Jewish students have long warned against conflating antisemitism with views critical of Israel’s government and blanket portrayals of all protesters as antisemitic.

The college protests have been largely peaceful, officials say, though hundreds of students and faculty have been arrested at campuses across the country, primarily for trespassing. School administrators across the country have also said that some instances of violence have largely been connected to unaffiliated non-students.

Last week, Speaker Mike Johnson visited Columbia University, where the protests initially began, and stepped up his criticism of the college protests.

“Columbia is out of control,” Johnson claimed.

During this visit, he joined some of his New York Republican colleagues in calling for Columbia University President Minouche Shafik to resign and suggested the National Guard be called to tamp down the demonstrations.

Johnson also called on President Joe Biden to speak more forcefully on the issue. Last week, Biden said he condemned “antisemitic protests” but also condemned “those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians.”

The bill’s approval comes a day after Johnson announced the House is expanding its investigation into antisemitism on college campuses and will look at federal funding specifically.

ABC News’ Kiara Alfonseca contributed to this report.

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